An incredible love story where revenge and romance battle for the win!
Anastasia Griffin is a woman scorned. Being an outlaw but with the heart of a lady, she never believed that the love of her life, Timothy King, could betray her.
Timothy is living as a peaceful rancher in Newton Creek, Wyoming. He is a trusted and well-respected member of the local community.
The last time they saw each other was right before that awful robbery. The one that ended up with the death of the leader of the gang Ellis Madden and Tim running away.
For the past 3 years, Anastasia and the other two Madden brothers have been searching for him for payback.
For the past 3 years, Tim has been living a different life than the one he used to live.
And now as they meet after all this time, old feelings resurface! When the truth is revealed and all secrets are brought to light, everyone seems to be walking on thin ice. And it’s shaking.
Ana stood waiting patiently, her heart hammering against her chest in the same way it always did when she waited for the men to come back. The silence around her was almost deafening, the way that the heat seemed to swallow everything whole and make it almost impossible to just stand still and focus. Ana found herself shuddering despite the heat, something didn’t feel right this time. It was different. As different as a robbery could feel to somebody who was so used to being part of the entire experience.
As usual, Ana wasn’t involved completely—she had been swept aside as though she were merely a piece of driftwood on open waters. But she didn’t stand there alone. She was ready and waiting with the final two horses, ready to go at the sight of the other’s signal. It was normally the job that she did with Tim. He would stand with her and the two of them could keep one another company. Timothy King held that kind of presence that made you feel safe in an instant; there was nothing to hide from him, he simply invited her to open up and feel comfortable.
Ana didn’t like the fact that she’d been left to do this job on her own. She craved Tim’s company and felt as though he couldn’t come back any sooner.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity of waiting, shadows began to rise over the horizon; people were coming. Ana leapt to her feet and readied the horses, her nerves instantly sharpening and her mind focusing on nothing else but the task at hand. That was until she saw who it was that was coming.
Two riders only. Not the four that had set out earlier in the day, but only two were now coming up and over the hill. The sun was beating down, glaring onto the two of them as they rode and masking who they were from Ana’s sight. Her memory went back to earlier that morning, as though her heart was trying desperately to distract her from the truth that was riding up to meet her.
“You promise that you’ll be quick with this one?”
“Of course I do.” Tim smiled down at her, his hands affectionately cupping her cheeks. “I’ll be all right like always, you’ve got to believe that.”
“I know, I just don’t like seeing you go on without me. What if something does happen?”
“Nothing’s going to happen.”
As if to reinforce this, Tim leant down and pressed a tender kiss to Ana’s lips, a small reassurance for the trip ahead of him.
“Just make sure you’ve got the horses ready, and I’ll be back before you know it. You won’t even know that I’m gone.”
“Yes I will, Tim. I always miss you when you go. It’s almost like I can’t bear to not be with you all the time.”
Tim chuckled at this, shaking his head as he looked down at her.
“I don’t want you to worry about me. You know that out of this group, I’m not exactly the one that would get caught out. Not in comparison to Leroy or Carl for example.”
“Hey, I heard you over there!”
But the two lovers ignored the grunting shouts of the other gang members. Although they didn’t know it at the time, it would be a longer goodbye than they were bargaining for. Ana frowned as she felt dread sinking in, as she’d had the bad feeling about this particular robbery all morning.
“Are you sure that any of you should even be doing this? We don’t normally double back on a town like this. What if people recognise you?”
“People won’t—we’re going in, getting the money and getting out.”
“It might not be that simple.”
Tim put a hand under her chin and moved it until she was looking up at him again.
“I’m going to be just fine, Ana. I’ll see you later before it’s even getting dark.”
“All right then, if you’re positive about this. I guess I just have a bad feeling.”
Tim pressed his lips to hers again. The action was incredibly slow, as though he was taking his time to reassure her.
“I promise, I’ll see you later.”
“Come on, everyone, we’ve got a job to do,” Ellis, the leader of the gang, called out. “Oh, seriously? Will you two love birds quit it now? He ain’t going off to his death after all. Come on, boys, we’re leaving.”
Tim chuckled at Ellis and then looked back at Ana.
“I’ll see you real soon.” He smiled happily as he looked at her, as though she made his unorthodox life complete.
“I look forward to it.” Ana smiled, pecked his lips one last time, and then made her way over to the various things that needed to be packed by the time that they all returned.
But only two were now coming over the horizon. Two men that Ana held her breath for. She felt awful for the thoughts that went through her mind, hoping that in some way fate had been on her side and had gotten rid of the two younger Madden brothers for good. That they’d been caught by a sheriff and then lynched by a mob.
However, Ana knew that she was only kidding herself. She could see exactly who it was that was coming closer by now. Neither of them had Tim’s build, nor Ellis’ for that matter.
Leroy and Carl Madden were riding back to the meeting point without the other half of the group. Ana didn’t want to know what had happened. She always knew that if someone didn’t come back, it was bad news.
She hadn’t even realised that she’d sunken down onto her knees until she felt the hot ground against her covered skin. Rocks dug into the fabric and were sure to mess up her gauchos, but she didn’t care; Ana felt entirely broken yet numb all at the same time.
She didn’t know what had happened, who had left who, who would be the one that was remembered as the hero. Again, Ana didn’t want to know in that moment. All she could think about was the promise that Tim had made her that morning, the promise that now lay in shattered pieces in front of her.
The two men dismounted their horses and Ana found herself suddenly wanting to know, needing the answers as to what had happened. The dust was now stinging her eyes, drawing out tears before she even understood what was happening herself. The world looked like it was spinning out of control, that she was going to fall down and never get up again. Ana hurt everywhere, the air in her lungs robbed from her, leaving her in a state of complete shock and devastation. All she knew was that she needed answers, and she needed someone to pay for what was happening.
Dust curled up the side of the hill, climbing toward the three crouched figures with such a force that one would have thought the particles were being yanked like a piece of rope. Leroy Madden shielded his harsh eyes with a single hand, ducking his head down to use the brim of his hat as a stronger shield against the rising dust while his brother Carl, seemingly unfazed by the shift in the air, continued to scour the landscape in front of them.
The scowl on his face sloped down like the surrounding hills; however, if anything, they were thankful for the onslaught of dust. It worked in the brothers’ favor to hide their position just under the brow of the hill. Leroy was trying his hardest to focus. Although it had always been something he’d left up to his younger brother, he just couldn’t wait for the action to start.
Accompanying them was a woman whose auburn head was ducked down entirely into her own chest, partially to defend her face from the dust, yet also because she wasn’t sure she wanted to look out and see what they had come to find.
After the gusts died down a bit, she straightened, attempting to roll back her rounded shoulders as she sat up, sighing. In the presence of these two men, she wanted to appear strong and agile, wanted them for once to look at her as their equal and not their prize.
“Ana, I think I’ve got something,” Carl said, pulling out his binoculars to take a better look. Anastasia could feel her heart rate increasing, pounding in her ears louder than any violent wind. “Yep, it’s definitely him, all right.”
As soon as Carl had finished his words, Anastasia’s head shot around, like a knee-jerk reaction, an instinct. She knew that despite the aching, there was still a part of her heart that yearned for this man and was drawn to him like a moth to light. It bypassed any connection to her brain or logic and acted purely on that odd feeling of love that still clung on for dear life after all this time.
“A-Are you sure?”
She was surprised by her own timid tone and quickly tried to squash it by clearing her throat. She was strong and wanted to appear so, but her voice betrayed her efforts. She had always had to be strong; it was a habit that was ingrained under her skin, almost second nature, ever since she’d been a child.
Her voice was still hoarse, words scratching out of her throat, using more effort than she had previously thought she’d need. But it had been a long time coming. Three years, to be exact. Ana couldn’t believe that just that morning she had been having doubts. The idea of giving up the chase was so appealing—of living a life where for once they would just be able to stop and do nothing.
But that wasn’t the life that she had chosen when she was seventeen. That was a dream that always seemed to linger in her mind. This was the path that she had chosen to follow, and it wasn’t done with her yet. Sure, she could have continued on as a barmaid, met a normal man, got married, gone to a ranch and lived out her days surrounded by cattle and children.
A life that she could have had if the Madden brothers hadn’t walked into the saloon she’d worked in when she was merely seventeen.
Yet no matter how much she clung to hope, she could no longer ignore the white hot pain in her heart, the cracks that had shattered into millions of pieces so small that she didn’t think that they would ever be put together again.
Her olive green eyes were wide, the usual sharp edges fraying like old fabric and falling apart as reality cleared like the dust in the air that had been carried off by the wind. She tried her hardest to hide this emotional side, putting up the front that she had had constructed from all of the anger.
So all that’s left is revenge, she reminded herself.
“Take a look for yourself.” Carl’s voice was gruff, his eyes cold and hard as always, the only color visible that of grey rocks that had been dried out by the sun.
Ana understood that neither of the brothers liked it when she pushed at their authority, testing boundaries that didn’t exist only brought on another row. Arguments that she had skillfully won only once or twice.
However, in this instance there would be no mistake. They had been looking for one man for three years, and if Carl Madden said that it was Tim, then it was Tim.
Nevertheless, she took the weighted binoculars and followed Carl’s finger down the side of the hill and through a small blockade of thin trees. If she squinted hard enough, she could see through their thin needles and into the clearing beyond.
It felt as though one of the brothers had punched at her gut, a fist-sized hole that only got bigger the longer that she looked. It rid her chest of air and left her throat as dry as the ground in the summer season. She would have recognized that ebony hair anywhere. It matched the color of his beard, although both were now longer than she remembered. His skin was different too, a darker shade than the heavy mental picture that Ana had been carrying with her for three years. It seemed that in this new life of his, he spent much of his time outside. But in her mind, these new details didn’t matter at all. It was him.
“Tim.” Her voice was closer to a breath of angry air that had been carried up through the rough landscape than any actual human sound, and she found that every bone in her body wanted to run out and down the hill, to go to him, and—
No. Think about what he did. The voice in her head tugged back as though it were the leash keeping her fixed to the side of the slope.
She clawed at any memory available, any false promise that he’d made that would have hinted as to how he had ended up here, on a random ranch in a very random place: Newton Creek, Wyoming.
Anastasia was born and raised in Texas, and up until now, she had never been this far north, not in all of her years living as a nomadic outlaw. That was why she couldn’t understand it; they were outlaws, and Tim had always been an outlaw in her eyes. This new life seemed so foreign… yet so right.
She had learned the art of detachment, never staying in one place long enough to settle. Life had always been uprooted for her. Stability was a myth, the sort of luxury that only the wealthy could afford. It would mean that she could lower her barriers, be soft and actually enjoy life.
Ana had been with Tim almost as long as she had worked in the Madden brothers’ gang, which was why she had found it so hard to believe that he could put so many years of being on the wrong side of the law behind him and live the simple life here.
Upon joining the gang, much to the dismay of the two youngest Madden brothers, she had chosen Tim as her lover over them. A large part of their bond had been built up on trust—something that she hadn’t realized he would be able to shatter in an instant like glass.
But it wasn’t just her that he’d betrayed; he’d gone behind the backs of both Leroy and Carl, as well as their older brother Ellis. The thought that it was Tim who had set the ambush that got Ellis killed was sickening to Ana; she’d seen her fair share of violence over the years, but they never hurt one another. They were all they had on this side of the law.
“Like we said on the way here,” Leroy began, dragging Ana out of her daze and allowing her senses to sharpen on her surroundings. His face was set hard as he turned to face her. “Carl and I can’t afford to go down into the town. It’s too risky. Someone might recognize us from the wanted posters. That means it’s up to you to gain Tim’s trust. He wouldn’t trust us again anyway. Just get him to open up and report back what he says.”
“I don’t see why you’re wasting all your time on this; we have the element of surprise right now, so why can’t we just go down there and demand that he pay up?”
Tim had run off after their robbery—or rather, he had set the ambush up to kill Ellis and then ridden away with the money safely in hand.
“You remember how much it hurt when he left you behind?” Carl questioned, leaning forward so that his cold eyes were close to hers, boring into her soul as though he could smell her doubt. Though truthfully nothing smelt as bad as these outlaw men, who hadn’t yet taken advantage of the surrounding lakes to wash in. “Think about how it would have been if he’d just been another member, if you hadn’t had that sort of connection to him. Think about how lonely you would have been in our group. He used your trust and threw it back in all of our faces when he left. We want you to rebuild that trust. It will give our plan more of an impact.”
Ana couldn’t deny that she was impressed with their thinking. It was definitely an upgrade from their usual one-dimensional cattle robberies. They were going to use Tim’s emotions against him.
“All right, I’ll do it,” she said with a curt nod, her expression devoid of any emotion other than determination. She was going to do this to get the justice they deserved.
However, she had always thought that the brothers’ plans were easier said than done, especially when it was Leroy laying out the details. He possessed such an air of nonchalance that it always made her wonder how he’d survived for so many years.
She tried her hardest to banish any form of shakiness from her voice; the Madden brothers had known her for years and there would be no hiding from them. They knew her better than her father ever had.
But he only comes back when he needs to lay low from the law, she reminded herself. Her father was more of a burden than any sort of role model. Although she had followed in his tracks with this sort of lifestyle, she liked to think that she had always been better at it. She knew for a fact that she was better. Ana never had to exploit anyone by taking advantage of their generosity to hide from the law.
“I knew that small, skinny guy wouldn’t do us dirty when he tipped us off about somebody who matched our description working on a ranch up here in Wyoming. I tell you, Ana, there’s rats everywhere. Tip the rats well, and they’ll tell you anything.”
The thought would have been harrowing had Ana not had to endure countless nights on the run, or sleepless days and nights where they weren’t even sure what they were running from. The idea of there being eyes and ears everywhere was neither new or interesting. She simply wanted to focus on the task at hand. Her boots crunched the dirt beneath them as she sat impatiently, listening to the triumphant I told you so’s that the brothers were exchanging.
Carl was proud of his connections—something that Ana had taken note of a long time ago. However, she was tired of listening to them, tired of everything, and the fatigue in her muscles allowed her mind to slip back to memories of being with Tim. Three years of her life had been filled with memories of him before he betrayed them, and they were times she knew deep down she would go back to in a heartbeat. But that wasn’t possible, so all that filled her now was resentment.
Tim had been the one she could turn to ever since she had expressed her love for him. The other two men had backed off, especially after Ellis gave them his blessing. So now they were distant, merely her co-workers. She missed the rush of doing what they had always done with her best friend and love by her side. But a large part of her mind considered that man dead.
The scene in front of her beyond the hill only reiterated this further. That wasn’t the Tim that she remembered. It wasn’t the Tim she’d always dreamed about living with in stability. That was all it had been: a dream.
“What’re you thinkin’ about”
Ana looked up, catching Leroy’s eye. She knew that the brothers underestimated her intellect and capability, as they hadn’t revealed the full extent of their plan to her. When she got down there, in order to gain his trust, Ana knew that she would have to convince Tim that she had also left the gang. However, the truth of the matter was that if it all happened again—if Tim took the money and asked her to join him in leaving—she knew with full certainty that she would have said yes in less than a heartbeat.
“Just reminding myself why we’re here.” She brushed off his question, pushing her long hair off of her shoulders so that it cascaded down her back. It was usually tied back in a neat braid that would slowly unravel as they rustled cattle or robbed certain establishments, but it was never down in the day. The sun was beginning to heat up the back of her neck, the skin feeling as though it was suffocating under the cluster of hair, but it was necessary. A small detail that would prove to Tim that she really had left.
“Good, and don’t you go forgettin’ it. That boy killed our brother, stole our money, and broke your heart. You’d best remember the facts.”
If Tim had asked and she’d gone with him, it would now be these two brothers looking down on her at the ranch, too—a thought that chilled her bones slightly despite the warmth of the sun.
But he didn’t ask you, she snapped at herself, anger bubbling and rising in a frenzy from her gut. He left you, he never truly cared for you. He hurt you and you’re not going to let him get away with it.
She remembered when the two younger brothers had first explained the story to her, how reluctant she had been to believe them, how she couldn’t picture her Tim being behind all of it. It had been a successful bank robbery, and the five of them could have still been a successful gang if her Tim hadn’t betrayed them all.
Anastasia knew that she would have to remain levelheaded about all of this if they were going to get revenge. She was ready to ask him straight out to give the money to them, and the thought of the look on his face when he realized that he had been betrayed—that was what was driving her and keeping her agile.
“Don’t worry, I’m not going to forget why we’re here. He hurt us all, but we’ve dealt with much worse than Timothy King in the past. A little bit of acting will be easy.”
The brothers smirked at her assertive response. They had always liked it when her voice was hard and her gaze fixed on a target. It was a sort of novelty, as they didn’t know any other women like Ana. The only other outlaws they kept in contact with were men.
She turned her back on the edge of the hill to look at the sloping landscape they’d travelled across, great chunks of rock rising and falling to form an irregular horizon that jumped up and fell down whenever it felt like it. Spatters of trees mingled in with the rough terrain, forming a blanket of pine needles over the jagged rocks, and some peaks were still dusted with snow despite the blue sky and sun above. The sound of running water bounced off the cavernous walls of the surrounding mountains and cliff faces, jumping from surface to surface much like Ana had done as a child after the death of her mother. It seemed that even in her infanthood, permanency had been as much a novelty for her as the idea of a woman that didn’t stay home to cook was to everyone else.
“Next time he heads into town, you follow, got it? You remember the storyline? You’ve left the gang like he did, and now that you’ve found him, you want to start afresh.”
Ana nodded her head once, a curt gesture as she turned back to look through the trees, the top of the ranch just visible. The part about leaving the gang had been her idea; she felt it would be easier to approach and talk to Tim before enacting any sort of revenge. She needed the closure, though there was a small spark of hope that perhaps he’d had an incredibly good reason for what he did. She just needed to know.
“Don’t worry, I can do this. I will do this. You remember how the two of us used to be. He’ll trust me.”
Ana had expected her voice to shake like an old house in a violent storm and was pleasantly surprised by her bullish tone.
“Good. Then get going and wait for him to walk to town.”
“One more thing,” Ana said, still not moving from her spot. “We’re just here to get the money back, right?”
She had only spoken up after seeing the way Leroy’s hand dipped down to the pistol holstered at his hip. She was under no illusion about what the brothers could be like; they didn’t think most of the time, but would simply act on how they felt.
“Of course. We aren’t going to kill him. I may have to take a swing when we see the no-good sod, but we won’t kill him.”
“I need your word,” Ana demanded, her eyes narrowing. She didn’t fully believe them yet.
“You’ve got both our words,” Carl cut in, nodding to his brother seriously. “We promise, no killing Tim, even if he deserves it after everything he’s done to us.”
“We’re just getting the money back.”
“You’ve got it,” Leroy said with a curt nod. “And maybe some interest on said money…” he added rather slyly.
Ana grabbed her nearby bag, which contained a dress she’d stolen from the last town they’d visited. Upon hearing about this lead, she’d figured it would be better for her to drop back into Tim’s life whilst conforming to the societal norms around her. They had never been of paramount importance to her while they were on the run, but now she would have to say goodbye to her dark brown gauchos and replace them with a dress that kept her from moving properly.
“Good luck,” Carl said.
“I’ll be fine,” Ana reiterated, moving over to a cluster of trees to change.
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